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The Talon House

Staking My Claim


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Staking My Claim

Chapter Eighteen

by Nick

Powerful. Awe Inspiring. Gripping. Beautiful. Those four words pretty much summed up the performance Phillip was giving on the stage of the massive church I was sitting in. In the pew with me were my mom and dad, along with Mr. and Mrs. Cassiante and Sabrina, Phillip's little sister who, it turns out, decided that I was her boyfriend. She had hooked my arm with hers as soon as the Cassiante's spotted us in the foyer before the service started.

In my life, I'd been to church once or twice. It's not so much that we aren't religious people. In fact, my mom and dad were both raised in the Methodist church. I guess we just never included church in our lives for one reason or another. Sometimes I think it's because of the hateful stance so many Christians take against homosexuality. I mean, my mom and dad would never disrespect me or my feelings by taking me somewhere I wasn't accepted.

But I think it goes deeper than that.

My mom and dad are pretty liberal folks. In fact, my dad always jokes that fiscally, he stands to the right of Clarence Thomas, and socially, he stands to the left of Hillary Clinton. That makes a lot of sense to me, and it explains why we don't gather our Bibles up every Sunday and Wednesday and go to church for worship services.

To me, it seems, a true Christian, or someone of any faith, would worship whomever they serve every day, not just on Sunday. On this Sunday, though, we were seated in the large chapel, pretty close to the front, and we were being treated to Phillip's clear, crisp, convicting solo performance. The lyrics were so beautiful, even to someone like me who hadn't heard anything remotely close to gospel before, and my mom actually had to dab her eyes with a tissue.

It was that moving.

Of course, Phillip was so proud to be there, singing the praises of The Lord, and I was proud of him. Here was someone who was able to accept who he was on every level. He knew he was gay, and he didn't try to deny it to himself. He might not have been out to many people, but I think it's important to be comfortable about coming out before you do it, so I didn't see him being in the closet to his family as a negative.

On the other hand, he was overflowing with faith in God and not afraid to share his faith and his love of the Lord with all of his friends. He invited Jarred, both Kyle's, Renee and a few other people from his school that he knew to his performance. When he invited me, I promised him I'd be there. I mean, how could I not? The feelings I had for him went so deep that I felt like I'd go anywhere he asked me to. Even if it would have been somewhere dangerous. I trusted him that much and I wanted to be a part of his life in every facet.

When he was finished, there wasn't an empty seat in the chapel. I'd never heard of people applauding at a church, but that's what was happening. Mr. and Mrs. Cassiante looked so proud as they stood to applaud with all of us, and it was obvious that Phillip was beaming from all of the attention. He joined us in the pew and we stayed for the duration of the service and stayed behind when it was over to meet the parishioners who came over to greet the Cassiante's.

"That was so nice," my mom gushed as we drove home. "He has such a beautiful voice."

"Yeah he does," I agreed quietly from the back seat, thinking of the times he'd serenaded me. "I've heard it before."

"That song?" my dad asked, and I shook my head.

"No, his voice," I said. "He sings to me all the time."

"Well he has a heavenly voice," my mom said, turning in her seat to look at me, and I nodded in agreement.

When we got home, I waited for Phillip to call my cell and let me know he'd made it back so we could make plans to meet. I figured Jarred was hung over from the night before when we partied at Kyle K's house, and wouldn't be calling anyone. Prior to that, I hadn't heard from Jarred in a couple days and figured he was avoiding me because he was still too ashamed to come around after the tongue-lashing I'd given him. True, we'd made amends for the most part, but I could tell that his feelings were hurt that I didn't side with him against Phillip.

I'd seen Kyle K the day before at the beach, and afterward, we met up with Phillip at the 7-11 on the edge of their 7-11. It wasn't the same one I'd met Phillip at so many months before, though. This one was on the other side of the neighborhood, closer to my place. I'd never been there before, and after going inside, I decided never to go there again unless I absolutely had to.

Basically, when it comes to 7-11's, there are two types; clean ones, and gross ones. Most of the ones on the oceanfront are clean. There's an exception or two, but I'm sure they keep them clean for the tourists. This one, though, was a gross one. As soon as I walked through the door, the smell almost made me gag. It reminded me of a litter box that needed to be changed months ago or something. The worst part was, people were in there buying hotdogs off the grill and getting coffee and Slur-Pee's. All I could think of was the likely hood that a family of cats was living under the store somewhere, spraying it with their pee.

Still, I stayed silent as Kyle went inside and bought himself a Coke from the fountain. When he came out, he offered me a drink, and I politely said I wasn't thirsty and prayed for him to accidentally drop his soda. I inwardly cringed when he drank it down, and also when Phillip showed up looking parched from the bike ride and accepted Kyle's offer to share his soda.

They both gave me a funny look when I crossed the road and got a fountain drink of my own at a Crown gas station on the opposite corner, but I just shrugged and said, "I wasn't thirsty until now."

Instead of heading back toward my house, we rode our bikes up General Booth Boulevard toward a section of Virginia Beach called Court House. It's about a four-mile bike ride from where we were, but I was up for it. We made it up to Nimmo Parkway and turned left, and as soon as I spotted the sign, I knew what I wanted.

We laid our bikes down out front, and Phillip kept a close eye on them while Kyle and ordered. I love Cold Stone Creamery. There aren't too many places that serve food that I think about at odd moments, but this is definitely one of them. On the oceanfront, we have the pick of the lot. There's a Häagen-Dazs shop on practically every corner, we have Ben and Jerry's shops, Dairy Queen and a host of other places to find high quality ice cream. But there's no place like Cold Stone Creamery, at least not to my knowledge. If there is, I'd like to know where. My favorite is Berry-Berry-Berry Good. Phillip and Kyle both got Chocolate Devotion, which looked scrumptious but way too chocolatey for me to handle.

When we were done there, we rode around the shopping center, looking for a place that sold CD's but having no luck other than Wal-Mart.

"I'm not going to Wal-Mart for s**t," Kyle complained. "They only sell CD's that are cleaned up. I don't want that bullshit."

"Well what do you want to do, dude?" Phillip asked, almost impatiently. "It's hot and I'm full of ice-cream."

"Let's go this way," Kyle said, and before we could speak up, he was pedaling his way out of the shopping center and down Upton Road, the street that bordered the shopping center. When we got tot he end of Upton, we wound up at a gas station, and we all gratefully threw our bikes down and went inside for something to drink. I got a Fierce Grape Gatorade and drank it all down. It didn't take Kyle and Phillip long to down their drinks too.

"Hey man I saw some CD's that might be right up your alley," Phillip joked, referring to the revolving display of CD's and tapes in the store. Most of them were old country and western CD's, or garbage CD's like, Best of the '80's , or AM Gold: Hit's from 1977.

In reply, Kyle gave him both middle fingers and smiled sarcastically at him.

"Man, let's just get the f**k out of this heat," Kyle whined, and I nodded in agreement. We went back in, got a drink for the road, and headed back toward my end of the beach. About a half hour later, we were stretched out in my living room, on my couch, watching MTV2 and cooling off. My mom brought us all oversized cups with ice and Coke in them, and we guzzled them down in no time. Once we cooled off, we went up to my room, where we donned our swimming trunks and took turns coating each other with sun block.

As hot as it was, we didn't swim long at all. In fact, I was so wiped out that all I wanted to do was escape from the sun by going back inside and letting the AC cool me down. Kyle was in a playful mood, though, and had taken to pantsing us in the water and swimming off as fast as he could. Phillip was up for a challenge, it turned out, and gave chase. Kyle made the mistake of running out of the water and onto the beach, thinking he was safe.

Phillip had other plans though.

"Dude, let's just head back to my place so we can smoke a joint," he said as he approached me, his skin glistening with a sheen of water. I was about to agree to his suggestion when out of nowhere, his shorts were around his knees and Phillip was laughing maniacally behind him.

"Look, it's a full moon," he announced loud enough to make others turn his way, just in time to see Kyle struggling to cover up and get his shorts back up. From the beet red expression on his face, I guessed that Kyle was furious with Phillip, but that wasn't the case at all. Instead, he smiled at him with a look that said revenge would be his.

That night, as seven o'clock approached, I found myself wondering how I was going to get some alone time with my boyfriend. I didn't want to just ditch Kyle, but I wanted to get out of there with Phillip before anyone else showed up so we'd have time to go back to my place for sex. Of course, being at Kyle's, that meant we had a long bike ride ahead of us. It also meant we'd have to find a reason to leave, present it to Kyle in a way that wouldn't make him feel left out, then we'd have to get back to my place in time to have sex. We were fighting Phillip's curfew, too, so I knew we'd have to do something hasty.

The God's weren't with us on this night, though. Because just when it seemed like we were going to be able to get out of there, one of his and Phillip's friends from school, Trevor, showed up with his girlfriend Micah and a guy named Jeremy, who was obviously gay. He and Micah were hanging on each other, but not in a romantic way. It was in a best friends forever way, and Trevor didn't seem to mind.

Not that he had anything to worry about. He was a total hunk in my book. He stood at just over six feet, and he probably weighed a hundred and seventy pounds. He was obviously chiseled, and he had flowing brown hair that made me want to run my fingers through it. Micah looked at him adoringly, and when he spoke, he seemed to command the attention of everyone in the room.

I found myself more than a little intrigued by Jeremy. He was more than gay, in my opinion. I mean, it wasn't even a question. He was one of those mythical flaming gay guys you see on TV or read about but might not meet. At least, I know I'd never met anyone like that in my life. He was so open about it, and very feminine in his ways.

"So what are you three up to tonight?" Phillip asked, breaking his sack out and holding it up in the air as if to ask if they wanted to get high.

"We're just out," Micah answered.

"You guys want to smoke a joint?" Phillip offered, as if it weren't already implied.

"Sure," Trevor said. "I can throw something in. Where's Fedina tonight?"

"Who knows?" Kyle lamented. "I'm about to call Porter right now and see what him and his old lady are up to."

"Call Fedina, man," Trevor urged. Looking at Phillip. In reply, he just shrugged, took his cell out and made the call.

My guess is that Kyle had no intention of having a party at his place when the night started, but by the time eight thirty rolled around, there were about fifteen people with beer and weed, and we were having a good time. Jarred even came by, and when he did, I found myself once again enamored with his antics. It was as if the fight with Phillip never happened. He did make one scene, but that was because he barfed in Kyle's driveway.

At some point, Trevor and Kyle Porter started throwing a football in the street, which prompted an informal game of touch football out front. I stayed inside, though, drinking a beer and wondering what the next day would hold. My mom and dad were invited by Phillip, along with me, to church. Much to my surprise, they accepted. I made sure that I stressed to them that Phillip wasn't out, and to please not say anything to his mom and dad about the two of us. In turn, they gave me a "no s**t Sherlock" look and promised to be careful.

While I was sitting on the couch, Micah and Jeremy wandered into the living room from the front yard and took a seat on the couch with me.

"Do you go to Ocean lakes?" Micah asked, and I shook my head.

"I go to Princess Anne," I told her.

"Oh, with Renee?" Jeremy asked so sweetly that I thought I might get a cavity, especially when he smiled and batted his eyes at me.

"Yeah," I answered, a little taken back by his forwardness.

"How long have you known her?" Jeremy asked, obviously trying to make conversation with me.

"Well, I've gone to school with her practically all my life," I told him. "But we just became friends about a month ago."

"Well, I better go see what Trevor's up to," Micah said, getting up and making a beeline out of the house.

"What grade are you in?" he asked, inching closer.

"I'm going to be a sophomore this year," I said. "What about you?"

"I'll be a junior," he said. "So you're younger than everyone else?"

"Yeah," I said a little self-consciously. "Me and Kyle are the same age, but not for long."

"Yeah his birthday's in August, isn't it?" he said, and I shrugged. "I think it is."

"So how long have you known everyone?" I asked, speaking mainly about my group of friends.

"I've known Micah my whole life," he said. "She's my best friend. I met Trevor when they started dating, and we became really good friends. I didn't really know anyone else until I had some trouble at school and they kinda jumped in for me."

"A fight?" I asked, and he just shrugged his shoulders and smiled. I could tell that he'd mentioned something he wished he hadn't, and I made it a point to ask someone about it when I had a chance. We sat and talked for the better part of an hour after that, and even though I wasn't interested romantically, I realized that I had met someone new. Someone gay, but someone gay who I didn't want to be involved with in a romantic way. It was a weird feeling, but it was oddly refreshing, because I was afraid of becoming a slut. Instead of a new sex partner, I'd made a friend.

Go figure.

All in all, it turned out to be a great time, and I stayed mindful of the time. When it was time to go, I said my goodbyes and made my exit. I started toward the end of the block on my bike when out of nowhere, Jarred and Phillip rolled up along the side of me on Phillip's bike. Phillip was pedaling and Jarred was sitting on the handlebars.

"What's up?" I asked, slowing down so they could catch up.

"Nothing, we just didn't want you to have to ride back by yourself," Jarred slurred, and I wondered how in the world he was able to stay steady on the handlebars.

"Thanks guys," I said with a smile, slowing my pace even more so Phillip could keep a safe steady speed for Jarred, who was obviously smashed.

When we made it back to my place, my dad was up, just getting ready to close the garage door. We rolled up, and I panicked because it was apparent to anyone with a pair of eyes that Jarred was drunk. In a small way, I was relieved because I knew he was going to insist on driving them home. I was worried about them making it all the way back with Jarred as plastered as he was. On the other hand, I was scared to death of my dad finding out that I had been drinking too.

"Hey guys, what's going on?' he asked casually as we rode up.

"We're just riding back with Andrew, sir," Phillip answered, stopping his bike and in the process, ejecting Jarred from the handle bars. He initially landed on his feet, but he quickly stumbled in such a sloppy way that my dad immediately walked over to him, grabbing him by the arm and helped him steady himself. I looked up at him fearfully, then over at Phillip, who had the same look, and was met with a pointed expression from my dad that told the tale.

He knew.

"Phillip, why don't you let me drive you guys home?" my dad said. "You can get your bike tomorrow, okay?"

"Thank you Mr. Stout," Phillip said respectfully, getting off of his bike and walking it up the driveway. They got in the back seat of the car, then I took the front seat and we waited in silence for my dad to come back out. The entire drive to Phillip's was silent, then we drove Jarred home. He dug his keys out of his pocket, quietly thanked my dad for the ride, and got out. We waited for him to go inside, then we drove off.

"I'm sorry dad," was all I could think to say.

"Andrew, I know you're going to drink," he said. "I did it when I was your age too. I just want you to be responsible about it, okay? Don't get yourself hurt or killed, buddy. Deal?"

I looked over at him, noticing that he was smiling at me, so I smiled back and said, "Deal."

"So we're still on for tomorrow morning, right?" he asked, and I nodded. "Good. Your mother went out and spent a bunch of money on a dress."

I rolled my eyes and put my head back so I could relax the rest of the way home.

I finally got tired of waiting for someone to call me and decided to be proactive. I sat up and dialed Kyle K's cell but was sent straight to his voice mail. I left him a message, then I sent him a text to let him know I was thinking about him. I wanted patiently for about another ten minutes, but when nothing happened, I got up and went downstairs in search of something to eat.

My mom and dad were in the kitchen, prepping some meat and vegetables for the grill. I saw my mom's face brighten up when she spotted me, so I gave her a quick peck on the cheek, then I lifted myself up onto the counter right next to where she was working to keep her company.

"No plans?" she asked as she opened a drawer and pulled six stainless steel skewers out.

"No one's around," I semi griped. "I guess that means you guys are stuck with me for now."

"Well why don't you make yourself useful?" my dad said, reaching out and messing my hair up. "Take the ice chest out of the Jeep and rinse it out for me."

"Okay," I sighed, slowly sliding down from the counter and walking out to the garage to do as I was told. My dad's had the same red Igloo ice chest in his Jeep for as long as I can remember. To this day, he carries it with him wherever he goes. During the day, when he has to drive for work, he fills it with ice and Fresca. On the weekends, when we're cooking outside, he pulls it out and we use it for sodas.

Unfortunately, it sits in his Jeep for days at a time, unused, and can get pretty nasty. It seems like I'm always the one charged with the task of rinsing it out when it needs to be, and more often than not, it needs to be. I'm actually quite shocked that my mom hasn't put her foot down and told him to buy a separate ice chest for the house, especially considering how germ conscious she can be.

As luck would have it, the ice chest didn't just need to be rinsed out today. It needed to be scrubbed with soap, too, so I went back in the garage and found some Tide to sprinkle inside, then I scrubbed it out with a green Brillo pad. Once I couldn't smell the odor of feet, I rinsed it out and turned it upside down to let it drip dry. While the ice chest was drip-drying, I went back inside to report my progress and see what I could snack on while we waited for the grill to heat up.

"I'm hungry," I announced as soon as the door closed behind me.

"Well there's some left over macaroni and cheese," my mom said. "I'll heat some up for you if you can't wait for the grill."

"How'd you do with the ice chest, buddy?" my dad asked, and I cut my eyes at him.

"That thing is gross, dad," I told him. "I think it's time for a new one. I had to scrub it out with Tide."

"Is it that bad?" my mom asked, and I nodded.

"It stinks like feet," I complained. "And there was some moldy crap growing in it."

"Well you got it all cleaned up, didn't you?" my dad asked, sincerely sounding as if he didn't want to part with the thing.

"Yeah but that's not the point," I said. "It gets worse every time we use it."

"That's nonsense," my dad said in a dismissive tone. "Ice chests last forever. They just need a little TLC."

"Yeah, right," I said sarcastically. "What that thing needs isn't TLC. It need's TNT to put it out of its misery."

"You're crazy," he said. "I've had that thing since you were a baby. I can get another good fifteen years out of it."

"Maybe at the museum," I said. "I think I know what I'm getting you for your birthday, dad."

Just then, the timer went off and my mom took my bowl of mac and cheese out of the microwave. I lifted myself back onto the counter top and took the bowl from her. There was a torrent of steam rolling off the top, so I let it cool down a little bit, then I took small, careful bites, blowing on each one before I put it in my mouth.

About an hour later, I still hadn't heard from anyone, but the meat was done. We all sat down at the patio table and ate heartily. I've never been much of a pork fan, but I ate both of my chicken and vegetable skewers and most of the large steak my dad put on my plate. I had a 7-UP with my food while my mom and dad drank beer. When we finished, none of us made a move to get up right away. Instead, we sat at the table and talked about anything and everything, and before long, I forgot about the fact that I hadn't heard from anyone all day.

The heat was beating down on us when my phone finally rang. As it turns out, though, it wasn't Phillip. It wasn't Kyle K, either. Or Jarred, or Kyle Porter or Renee. I looked at my screen and smiled when I realized that it was my new friend, Jeremy Fisher, calling me on a Sunday afternoon, and I wanted to talk to him.

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